2013 Washington State Preview – Offense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 31, 2013


CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Washington State Cougar Offense


Washington State Cougars

Preview 2013 - Offense

- 2013 Washington State Preview | 2013 Washington State Offense
- 2013 Washington State Defense | 2013 Washington State Depth Chart

What You Need To Know:
Patience will need to be exercised when it comes to the Washington State offense. Getting the Cougars to play up to head coach Mike Leach’s expectation will be a process. After installing the Air Raid in 2012, the coaching staff is hoping to see better execution and a higher degree of output this fall. Leach made an important offseason addition, adding inventive offensive assistant David Yost, who’ll bring fresh energy and ideas to the staff. Obviously, Wazzu plans to air it out, spreading the field with four receivers to create wider lanes for all of the playmakers. For starters, the Cougars need to see improvement at quarterback, likely Connor Halliday, and with an O-line that’s been the bane of the offense for many years. Halliday is the veteran, looking to hold off freshmen Austin Apodaca and Tyler Bruggman. The strength of the attack will be at wide receiver, a corps of young pass-catchers on the verge of becoming assets to the passing game. Sophomores Dominique Williams and Gabe Marks, in particular, are about to hit the runway.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Connor Halliday
151-290, 1,874 yds, 15 TDs, 13 INTs
Rushing: Teondray Caldwell
56 carries, 269 yds, 0 TDs
Receiving: Brett Bartolone
53 catches, 435 yds, 4 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore WR Dominique Williams
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Connor Halliday
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Gabe Marks
Best pro prospect: Williams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Williams, 2) Marks, 3) Senior C Elliott Bosch
Strength of the offense: The passing attack, the wide receivers
Weakness of the offense: Inconsistency behind center, the ground game, the O-line, turnovers, third-down conversions

Quarterbacks

Being Mike Leach’s quarterback brings a lot of opportunities—and a lot of responsibility. The coach’s first hurlers in Pullman missed the mark, so the job will be up for grabs until someone performs with more consistency. The frontrunner is 6-4, 183-pound junior Connor Halliday, whose six career starts give him an immediate advantage in practical experience. He was in the lineup for five games a year ago, finishing 151-of-290 for 1,874 yards, 15 touchdowns and 13 picks. To hold on to the job, Halliday has to improve his accuracy and decision-making. He has the physical ability to succeed here, but too often forces throws when he gets into trouble, which is often.

Halliday’s competition in the spring came from 6-3, 191-pound redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca. Now, the former three-star recruit from the 2012 class can’t match the incumbent’s experience, but he could bring a different element to the offense. Apodaca is the better athlete, with the quick feet to add a dangerous component to an offense that spreads the field and creates wide running lanes.

Watch Out For .... well true freshman Tyler Bruggman plays in his first summer as a Cougar. Wazzu was ecstatic to land the four-star gem out of Phoenix, who had his pick of suitors. At the high school level, he was everything that Halliday is not, accurate, decisive and poised under pressure.
Strength: A returning starter. This situation could be much worse under center. At the very least, Halliday has played meaningful minutes against Pac-12 competition. He even played in place of Jeff Tuel as a rookie in 2011, and has thrown 24 career touchdown passes.
Weakness: Errant throws. Halliday is the veteran and the guy in the driver’s seat for the starting job. And yet, he’s also a quarterback who makes far too many poor decisions in the passing game. He completed just slightly more than 50% of his throws, and his 13 interceptions came as a part-time player.
Outlook: On the one hand, Halliday and Apodaca can’t help but be improved since this is their second year in Leach’s Air Raid system. On the other, though, both still need to smooth out a bunch of wrinkles in order to be considered reliable pilots of the offense. Halliday probably starts the opener at Auburn, but he’s far from a certainty to go wire-to-wire in 2013.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Sophomore Teondray Caldwell sits in the driver’s seat to be this year’s feature back, a diverse role in the Air Raid attack. The 5-9, 197-pounder showed flashes of potential as a rookie in 2012, rushing 56 times for 269 yards to go along with 14 catches for 36 yards. Now up to 5-9 and 197 pounds, he’s quick in space, planting and cutting to evade tacklers.

Junior Marcus Mason stood at No. 2 on the depth chart coming out of spring. The 5-9, 187-pounder has lettered in each of the last two years, but rushed for only 15 yards on 12 carries last year. However, he also caught 14 balls for 88 yards and a score, displaying soft hands.

Senior Leon Brooks and junior Theron West are a couple of slippery playmakers who’d make interesting options on third down. Brooks was third on last year’s team, rushing for 78 yards and a score on a dozen carries. West redshirted in his first year out of Los Angeles Harbor College, and brings a little wiggle to the offense and the ability to make people in space.

Watch Out For .... Caldwell’s status. The projected starter was arrested on May 7 on suspicion of burglary and assault charges, though it’s too early to know if the allegations will stick or not. Charges have not been filed, but it’s worth aware of this situation since Caldwell is expected to have an expanded role this fall.
Strength: Soft hands. If backs want to have a role in this Cougars offense, they better understand how to quietly drift out of the backfield, secure a touch pass and head downfield for the sticks. The holdovers got the memo last year, giving the quarterbacks a reliable safety valve in the passing game.
Weakness: Girth. The running backs are all undersized, averaging around 5-8 and 180 pounds. Their limited frames and muscle will not only present problems in short yardage and goal line situations, but also in pass protection, a key component for this job.
Outlook: Running back is not a make-or-break position in Leach’s attack, which is a good thing since the program is thin in can’t-miss playmakers. Caldwell, assuming he faces no legal issues, could lead the team with 500 or so yards on the ground, while catching a bunch of passes. West should also be good for a handful of highlight-reel plays throughout the season.
Rating: 5.5

Receivers

Since Marquess Wilson left the team in November, Washington State had a month to adapt to life after its star wide receiver. It’s also going to help to have back six Cougars who caught at least 20 balls in 2012. On the outside, at “X” receiver, sophomore Dominique Williams looks capable of becoming the second-coming of Wilson. He, too, is long, lean and fast, the potential deep threat needed to elongate opposing defenses. The 6-2, 192-pound playmaker, more than any other Wazzu weapon, flourished after Wilson stepped away from the program. In the first six games, Williams caught just three passes. However, over the final six games, he hauled in 31 for 498 yards and three touchdowns, a possible harbinger of things to come in 2013.

Sophomore WR Brett Bartolone is another one of the players who came on strong last fall, catching a team-high 53 balls for 435 yards and four scores in his debut out of La Habra (Calif.) High School. He’ll be back at “H”, Wazzu’s version of a slot receiver, using his quickness and determination to find the soft areas of the D. Bartolone is only 5-10 and 187 pounds, but he has enough heart and want-to to continue being a threat on the short and intermediate routes. The Cougars would like to spring him a little more often this fall after he averaged just over eight yards a catch in 2012.

The program is also very excited about the future of sophomore Gabe Marks, a mega-recruit from 2012. The starter at “Z” ran out of gas toward the end of his first year, yet still wound up catching 49 balls for 560 yards and two touchdowns. Noticeably stronger at 6-0 and 176 pounds, he ought to be better prepared for the rigors of a 12-game college season. Marks has outstanding hands, supporting his quarterback with an enormous catch-radius.

Topping off the four-wide starting lineup will be 6-2, 192-pound junior Bobby Ratliff at “Y”, the other inside position. He’s a steady, well-sized veteran, with nine starts over the last two seasons. Although he doesn’t have the top-end speed to play on the outside, he still managed to make a career-best 30 catches for 399 yards a season ago.

The Cougars are experienced in the first unit, but also deep off the bench as well. Junior Rickey Galvin is a former starting running back, who has made the switch to “H” to back up Bartolone. He started the first three games of 2012 before being lost to an arm injury. The 5-8, 174-pounder is quick and slippery, bringing 914 career yards from scrimmage into 2013. Junior Isiah Myers is like having another starter on the roster, despite the fact that he’ll likely caddy for Marks at “Z”. He started five games last fall, finishing fourth on the team with 42 grabs for 438 yards and four touchdowns. His production would have been even higher had it not been for a concussion in practice that derailed his sophomore season. Junior Kristoff Williams, a clutch 6-2, 216-pounder, will serve as the No. 2 at “X”. He has maximized his receptions over the last two seasons, turning 31 career catches into 326 yards and six touchdowns.

Watch Out For .... the newcomers. But wait, there’s more. Nipping at the heels of the starters will be a couple of first-time Cougars, JUCO transfer Vince Mayle and true freshman Robert Lewis. Mayle was one of the top junior-college receivers, earning offers from around the country. Lewis has great speed and burst off the line, and is already Ratliff’s backup at “Y”.
Strength: Depth and diversity of talent. Even with the unexpected loss of Wilson last year, the Cougars have regrouped rather nicely at wide receiver. Williams, Marks and Bartolone all cut their teeth as freshmen, and the backups are more experienced than most in the Pac-12.
Weakness: Consistency. Yeah, there are a lot of returning letterwinners to this group, but many of those players still need to polish up their overall game. It’s incumbent upon the veterans and young kids alike to run tighter routes, secure all catchable balls and pick up blocks downfield. The Wazzu quarterbacks need all of the help they can get in 2013.
Outlook: There’s justifiable reason for excitement about the receivers, such a key element of a Mike Leach offense. Sure, they’re young and still a little raw, but the ceilings will continue to grow higher for the three sophomores. The unit will actually be better than it was the last two years, when one Cougar, Wilson, dominated amid a landscape of relatively idle teammates.
Rating: 7

Offensive Line

The bad news? An O-line that ranked 120th nationally in sacks allowed will continue to be a serious problem in Pullman … again. The somewhat promising news is that five players with starting experience are back. The best of the group is 6-4, 274-pound senior Elliott Bosch who started every game at center in 2012, and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12. The one-time walk-on can stand to add a little more girth, but has the right mindset to play the pivot, and possesses the athleticism to get out to the second level to make blocks.

The Cougars could have two new starting guards this year now that Jake Rodgers has left the program. Sophomore Joe Dahl has been one of the surprises of the offseason, taking a lead on veterans, like 6-5, 297-pound senior John Fullington. The 6-4, 289-pound Dahl, a transfer from Montana, has been the most consistent blocker at the position, a coveted characteristic in Pullman. Fullington won’t go away. He’s a veteran of 30 career starts, even earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 in 2011.

Right guard is currently being led by 6-4, 259-pound senior Matt Goetz, with Fullington looking over his shoulder as well. The versatile former transfer from Texas Tech and Navarro (Tex.) Junior College started nine games at center in 2011 and five at right guard last year. He’s in great shape, but would still benefit from some more muscle.

Starting RT Rico Forbes is enjoying his best offseason at Washington State. The 6-6, 304-pound one-time Navarro (Tex.) Junior College transfer brings much-needed size and strength to a smallish group. The Bahamian native has yet to play a down for the Cougars, redshirting in 2011 before missing 2012 with a leg injury.

The quarterback’s backside is likely to be protected by 6-7, 305-pound sophomore Gunnar Eklund, who originally walked on to the program. He started seven games a year ago, struggling mightily in pass protection before being lost to an arm injury. If he can’t clean up his fundamentals and his quickness, he’s liable to get passed on the depth chart by 6-5, 318-pound redshirt freshman Eduardo Middleton.

Watch Out For .... Dahl to emerge as one of the anchors of the front wall. The left guard doesn’t do any one thing great, but he also doesn’t do any one thing poorly either. The former Grizzly provides a steady presence on the interior, something that will never get old at Washington State.
Strength: Bodies. The Cougars are as deep as they’ve been in the trenches in years, finally feeling as if they can go two-deep with capable blockers. Wazzu has a rotation of competing offensive linemen, which is going to help when the inevitable injuries crop up during the year.
Weakness: Blocking. Simple, right? The Cougars flat-out cannot hold the line of scrimmage, the result of a lack of size and a lack of skill. The program has had perennial problems in this area, succumbing to all of the power and the speed that the Pac-12 has to offer. Washington State was 120th nationally in rushing and sacks allowed, with the line taking much of the blame.
Outlook: Three-fifths of the projected starting lineup are former walk-ons, an indication of the talent gap Washington State faces compared to the balance of the league. This will again be one of the nation’s flimsiest O-lines, and arguably the worst among BCS conference schools. Still, there is a hint of optimism that comes from a little more depth and experience than what the unit has grown accustomed to in recent years.
Rating: 5.5

- 2013 Washington State Preview | 2013 Washington State Offense
- 2013 Washington State Defense | 2013 Washington State Depth Chart